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Unveiling the Legacy of the Legendary Ridge Hand: A Timeless Technique in the Blood and Guts Era of Karate

Updated: Apr 12

ridge hand

Black Belt Plus

In the annals of martial arts history, there exists a technique so formidable, so revered, that it became synonymous with the Blood and Guts era of Karate. Enter the ridge hand – a maneuver so potent that careers were built upon its execution alone.

The genesis of the ridge hand phenomenon can be traced back to the original Blood and Guts crew, a league of legendary fighters whose names resound through time. Among them were titans like Mike Stone, Allen Steen, Pat Burleson, Fred Wren, and Jim Harrison. These were men who wielded the ridge hand with unparalleled skill, leaving a trail of awe and devastation in their wake.

ridge hand black belt magazine

As the martial arts landscape evolved through the 1970s and 1980s, a new wave of fighters emerged, determined to carve their own legacies from Texas to California, Atlanta to NYC. Among them were luminaries like Steve Fisher, Al Francis, Jimmy "Gato" Tabares, and Raymond McCallum, each carrying the torch of the ridge hand tradition into a new era.

For the uninitiated, the ridge hand technique is deceptively simple yet devastatingly effective. By tucking the thumb into the palm and executing a circular motion akin to a hook punch, practitioners unleash a force to be reckoned with. 

Thus, the legacy of the ridge hand endures – a timeless testament to the indomitable spirit of martial arts and the enduring legacy of those who mastered its artistry in the Blood and Guts era.

Today we pay tribute to this move through the lens of esteemed martial artists who share their stories of its origins, its power, and its legacy.

Ridge Hand: Mike Stone

The Sport of Karate has one man to acknowledge as the innovator of the ridge hand and it is Mike Stone. But if you ask Mike Stone he will credit the Ridge Hand to his teacher of Shorin Ryu Karate Herbert Peters in Chaffee Ark. In a recent interview with Stone, we got a front-row glimpse of the history of the ridge hand.

Stone recalls that his instructor Peters taught the ridge hand as part of the Karate class as a way to defeat larger opponents with an unorthodox move, “sneaky” as Stone would describe it as it would come from angles unlike the linear Karate punches of its time. 

mike stone

Although he did not invent the move Stone was the first to initially use it with legendary success. In his early days of competition, Stone would defeat such greats as Pat Burelson using the ridge hand. It is perhaps no coincidence that the ridge would find its way to Texas shortly after Stone's victory, only to become a staple in Texas full contact Karate for over 3 decades. 

mike stone

Today nearly 60 years later Stone still actively teaches at his paradise dojo island in the Philippines, and yes he still practices and teaches the ridge hand, but now as a self-defense technique.  

ridge hand black belt magazine

Jeff Smith 

According to Jeff Smith, his inspiration to incorporate the ridge hand into his martial arts repertoire traces back to the golden era of Karate, where luminaries like Mike Stone, Fred Wren, and Jim Harrison held sway. Reflecting on those iconic figures, Smith recalls witnessing Fred Wren's unforgettable ridge hand strike that left Chuck Norris with a bloodied nose. "Watching those guys, I realized it was the most devastating move I had ever seen," remarked Smith, acknowledging the profound impact it had on his own approach to combat.

Recalling a defining moment in his career, Smith recounted a remarkable knockout during the 1974 PKA World Championships. In his first match against Budimir Vejnovic of Yugoslavia, Smith delivered a precision ridge hand strike that resulted in a knockout within the first minute of the bout. 

1974 Champions, where Smith ridge hand would see a world stage. 

Isaiah Duenas, Bill Wallace, Jeff Smith, Joe Lewis

Left to right Isaiah Duenas, Bill Wallace, Jeff Smith, Joe Lewis.

For Smith, the ridge hand wasn't just a defensive maneuver; it was a versatile weapon capable of both offense and defense. Its adaptability at various angles provided him with a range of attack options. "I practiced it extensively from both front and rear positions, dubbing it my 'extended hook.' The ridge hand's unique ability to cut distance and exploit the bend of the elbow made it a formidable tool in my arsenal," explained Smith.

Do you still teach the ridge hand? Decades later, Smith continues to pass on the legacy of the ridge hand through his teachings. "We still include the ridge hand in our curriculum, incorporating it into combinations for our students," he affirmed, highlighting its enduring relevance in martial arts instruction.

Do you still practice the ridge hand? As for personal practice, Smith remains committed to refining his skills, particularly with the ridge hand's effectiveness in mind. "I incorporate the ridge hand into my training routine, focusing on bag work to enhance its application, especially in the context of MMA where it can hyperextend the elbow," he revealed, underscoring the ongoing evolution and adaptability of this classic martial arts technique.

ridge hand

Dan Anderson

Dan Anderson, renowned for his dominance on the American Tournament circuit under the moniker "Super Dan," reminisces about his strategic use of the ridge hand in combat. "I relied on the ridge hand defensively against opponents with quicker reflexes," Anderson recalls. "I'd anticipate their backfist reverse punch combination, then execute a backward jump. As they extended, my ridge hand would land squarely on the side of their head."

Dan Anderson

Anderson is in his tournament prime, wearing a signature Baseball Jersey with the Superman logo. 

Reflecting on the effectiveness of the ridge hand, Anderson emphasizes its versatility in both sport karate and self-defense scenarios. "When targeting specific areas like the jawline, neck, or temple, accuracy is paramount," he explains. "The ridge hand is glove-safe, reducing the risk of injury compared to an open hand strike. However, there's still a risk of hand injury if not executed with precision."

Do you still practice the ridge hand? Regarding his current training regimen, Anderson admits to no longer practicing the ridge hand. "Today, I've shifted my focus to the palm heel or modified hook on the bag," he reveals, highlighting the evolution of his techniques over time. As martial artists adapt and refine their skills, Anderson's journey underscores the importance of versatility and adaptation in the ever-evolving world of combat sports.

Dan Anderson

Keith Vitali 

In the dynamic world of 1980s Sport Karate, Keith Vitali emerged as a dominant force on the tournament circuit before transitioning into a successful career as a full-fledged action movie star. Reflecting on his journey, Vitali fondly recalls the impact of the ridge hand technique.

"My introduction to the ridge hand came through watching Steve Fisher, who epitomized the technique in my era," Vitali reminisces. "It was a potent knockout move, executed with precision and power. The ridge hand remains a formidable defensive tool, offering a solid counter against offensive strikes."

Vitali elaborates on his strategic use of the ridge hand, particularly as a defensive counter against opponents' back-fist strikes. "I would often employ the ridge hand as a defensive counter move, especially in response to an opponent's backlist," he explains. "It served as a reliable defense mechanism, allowing me to effectively neutralize offensive attacks and gain the upper hand in combat."

Keith Vitali 

Sport Karate’s dominating ridgehand using fighters of the 80s, left to right  Tony Bell, Mike Genova, Keith Vitali, David Deaton, Larry Kelly. 

Do you still practice the ridgehand? Today I still practice the move when I work out, as it is still an effective weapon.

Keith Vitali 

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Ishmael Robles 

Hailing from Texas, full-contact legend and World Champion Ishmael Robles struck fear into the hearts of his opponents with his devastating hands and feet. When asked about his experience with the ridge hand, Robles shares a tale that epitomizes its power and effectiveness.

Ishmael Robles 

"In my college days, I competed in bare-knuckle tournaments where the ridge hand was a staple technique," Robles recounts. "Its impact was truly devastating, delivering unparalleled power and precision."

While the reverse punch was a cornerstone of his sport karate arsenal, Robles found versatility in the ridge hand, seamlessly transitioning between sport and full-contact styles. "I relied heavily on the reverse punch in sport karate, but I also incorporated the hook for variation," he explains. "The ridge hand, executed like a hook, emerged as a potent weapon in both disciplines, unleashing its most dangerous potential."

Do you still teach - Yes.

Do you still practice the ridge hand: Yes but I use an elbow bend strike not a straight arm move. 

Ishmael Robles 

Mike Genova 

In the South East Karate scene of the 1980s, Mike Genova and his South Carolina martial arts style reigned supreme, leaving an indelible mark on the tournament circuit alongside teammates Keith Vitali and Bobby Tucker. Reflecting on the influential figures who shaped his approach to combat, Genova recalls observing the mastery of the ridge hand technique by Robert Harris, Al Francis, and Larry Kelly.

"I first took notice of Robert Harris executing the ridge hand against Eddie 'Flash' Newman at the Top Ten Nationals," Genova reminisces. "It was a seamless transition, demonstrating remarkable effectiveness in combat. Later, I drew inspiration from the success of Al Francis and Larry Kelly, who also showcased exceptional skill with the ridge hand."

For Genova, the ridge hand became an integral part of his fighting strategy, often employed as a follow-up to the back fist. "I utilized the back fist as a setup, with the ridge hand swiftly following from the lead front hand," he explains. "Additionally, I found the ridge hand to be a valuable defensive tool in my arsenal."

Do you still teach the ridgehand: When asked about his approach to teaching the ridge hand in his martial arts school, Genova affirms its continued inclusion in their curriculum. "We still incorporate the ridge hand into our training, focusing primarily on its application in sport karate," he confirms, highlighting its relevance within the competitive arena.

Mike Genova 

Richard Plowden

Richard Plowden, a distinguished inductee of the Black Belt Hall of Fame, boasts an impressive resume as both a World Champion and coach of world champions. Reflecting on his martial arts journey, Plowden recalls the pivotal influence of observing Steve Fisher's performances on the circuit.

"During my time on the circuit, I had the privilege of witnessing Steve Fisher compete," Plowden reminisces. "His techniques left a lasting impression on me, particularly his mastery of a certain defensive move."

Richard Plowden

Steve Fisher circa 1978 using the ridge hand technique in pursuit of victory against Ray McCallum

Plowden notes that Fisher's protégé, Freddy Letuli, later adopted this move as his signature technique. "Under Steve's mentorship, Freddy honed the move to perfection," Plowden explains, highlighting the evolution of the technique within the martial arts community.

Describing the move as a defensive maneuver executed with the front hand, Plowden emphasizes its effectiveness in combat situations. However, he acknowledges that the use of gloves in modern competition limits the flexibility required to execute the technique with precision.

"In today's fast-paced, speed-oriented game, the circular motion of the move and its fade-away technique pose challenges for elite athletes," Plowden observes, explaining why the ridge hand has fallen out of favor among contemporary practitioners.

Do you still teach the move? Despite its decline in popularity, Plowden affirms that he continues to incorporate the ridge hand into his practice. However, he admits that he no longer teaches the technique, recognizing its diminishing relevance in modern martial arts.

Richard Plowden

Do you still practice the move?"Yes, I still practice the ridge hand," Plowden confirms, underscoring the importance of maintaining proficiency in fundamental techniques even as martial arts evolve.

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Linda Denley 

Renowned as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) in Sport Karate, the legendary Denley was celebrated for her mastery of the ridge hand, despite her personal preference for sidekicks. Reflecting on her iconic move, Denley admits, "It wasn't my favorite, but it's what many remember me for."

"My journey with the ridge hand began in my Tang Soo Do training," Denley recounts. "One unforgettable moment was during a match against Mary Owens at Roy Kurban's tournament. I delivered a lead ridge hand followed by a reverse rear, resulting in a knockout. Another memorable instance was when I hit Danielle Dixon so hard, I tore my rotator cuff."

linda denley

Denley's success with the ridge hand stemmed from its reliability, with a remarkable success rate. "I maintained the technique's power and focused on speed, making it incredibly effective," she explains.

Adding to her legacy, Denley shares notable facts about her relationship with the ridge hand. "I taught Jimmy 'Gato' Tabares the tornado ridge hand technique," she reveals. "We even adapted it for body strikes, with consistent success."

linda denley

Do you still teach and practice the ridge hand:  Denley responds with a resolute nod. "Yes, I still use it," she affirms. "People underestimate its power, but it never fails to deliver." With a glint of determination in her eyes, Denley's commitment to her signature move continues to inspire awe in the martial arts world.

KC Jones

In the vibrant California tournament scene of the 1970s, KC Jones carved out his place among the elite, securing victories in prestigious competitions like the Internationals. Reflecting on his journey through the martial arts landscape, Jones fondly recalls the pivotal role of a particular technique—the ridge hand.

"I vividly remember watching Mike Stone's fights in the 1960s," Jones reminisces. "He was a striking figure in his white gi, with afro-style hair and an unorthodox style. His intense demeanor and intimidating presence left an impression on me. It was during one of his fights that I witnessed the effectiveness of the ridge hand, although, at the time, I couldn't quite grasp its mechanics."

Jones's journey to mastering the ridge hand began in the mid-1970s while training under the tutelage of Joe Lewis in Hollywood. "I started practicing the ridge hand on a punching bag," Jones recalls. "Its simplicity, speed, and deceptive nature appealed to me—it was like a martial arts hook, easily executed due to the loose structure of the hand.

The ridge hand became a cornerstone of Jones's fighting arsenal, and he observed its widespread use among his peers, notably Cliff Stewart. "Cliff utilized the ridge hand extensively," Jones notes, highlighting its versatility and practicality in combat scenarios.

“Evolution has transformed the martial arts landscape, but the fundamentals remain essential," Jones emphasizes. "I still practice the ridge hand regularly, believing that mastering the basics is key to advancing in the art."

I still use it and practice with the handset. If you can't do the basics you can't do the advanced.

KC Jones

Team Steve Fisher 1980 IKC Champions. Left to right Irv Hoffman, KC Jones, Mike Stone, Steve Fisher, Dwain Dakari bottom center 

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Al Francis 

Renowned as one of the most formidable tournament fighters hailing from the heart of Texas, Al Francis emerged onto the combat sports scene during the gritty bare-knuckle era that laid the foundation for modern sport fighting. In an exclusive interview, Francis delved into the origins of his unparalleled skill set, shedding light on the pivotal role of a rare technique that became his signature move.

"I first honed my craft under Sensei Mikami in New Orleans, studying Shotokan," Francis recalled. "Later, I refined it through Taekwondo. The technique proved exceptionally potent due to my small stature combined with formidable power—it packed a punch."

During the 1970s, Francis found himself thrust into the bare-knuckle arena in Texas, where weight divisions were limited to lightweight and heavyweight. Weighing in at a mere 135 pounds, he relied on the sheer force of his signature move to hold his own, a tactic that would later define his fighting style.

Al Francis 

Vintage 70s Texas tournament era, left to right Ray McCallum, Phil Wilemon, Archie Cole, Al Francis

"In the '80s, I faced off against Freddy Letuli, and that move—my ridge hand—literally folded him," Francis recounted. "It was a display of sheer power."

Notably, Letuli would go on to adopt the ridge hand as a hallmark of his own sport karate career, a testament to its effectiveness.

"As the '80s progressed, I incorporated the ridge hand into my fighting strategy even more," Francis continued. "Given my stature, I often found myself pitted against taller opponents who favored kicking techniques. I combined the ridge hand with takedowns and sweeps, making it a formidable tool in my arsenal. The element of surprise, coupled with the precision of my technique, often caught opponents off guard."

Francis's legacy in the martial arts world endured for decades, his mastery of the ridge hand leaving an indelible mark on the sport and inspiring generations of fighters to come.

Do you still teach it today: Still teach it today to my students, I teach for both sport and defense.  

Al Francis 

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